May 01, 2022 | 06:15 IST

Painful childbirth: an SOS for help on May 1

It was exactly 99 years ago in Madras that May Day was first observed in India to fight for the rights of the working classes. May Day is a celebration of labor and workers, the creators of the wealth of nations and the state; However, these working classes bear the burden of inadequate minimum wage, loss of employment or work, lack of facilities, rising inflation, exploitation by the government as well as by the capitalists, etc. Goa is no exception to this scenario, reports SHWETA KAMAT

Inadequate minimum wage is a persistent problem for nearly 4.5 lakh workers in the state, along with better facilities through medical treatment, provident fund, variable high cost allowance, overtime, transport to the workplace, hygienic working conditions, etc.

There are nearly 2.5 lakh contract workers employed in various industrial zones, while another 1.5 lakh are categorized as construction workers. Additionally, the population of migrant workers is estimated at three lakh.

There are more than 10,000 salaried workers working under contract in the government sector, while more than three million people were directly or indirectly employed in the mining sector, who are now struggling to survive.

As in the rest of India, in Goa too, workers are characterized as organized or unorganized. Those in the first category work in bigger companies and have certain formal rights – just for name’s sake. Then there are the labourers, supplied by contractors from the unorganized sector, rather than the permanent workers. The owners pay the contractors who then pay the workers a portion of the payment they receive.

It was for the last time in 2016 that the working class daily wage was revised and set at Rs 307 per day. The minimum wage rates also include the special allowance, ie the variable dearness allowance (VDA) linked to the consumer price index. Goa is one state that has not implemented it.

Along with several other states, Goa had also amended the Factories Act 1948 to increase the maximum number of working hours per day from eight to 12, while exempting female workers.

Goa Labor Convention Chairman Suhas Naik said the current basic minimum wage ranging from Rs 307 per day to Rs 423 per day for highly skilled workers has not been revised in the state since 2016 despite several demands from unions and workers.

“The unions have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 600-Rs 650 per day. Government and industries are one of the greatest exploiters of the working class. It is very important that the minimum wage is increased to meet the high cost of living,” Naik said.

Naik said organized workers are in a better position because they are represented by unions and can bargain with employers or even the government about it, for better services and higher wages.

“But this is not the case when it comes to workers in the unorganized sector, most of whom are migrants. They even struggle to meet their daily needs. We have seen how contractors cheat these workers, who are not even paid the set minimum wage,” he explained, demanding that a proper system be followed in which daily wages are paid into their bank account keeping the details.

According to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Goa’s unemployment rate is around 13% against a national average of 8%. In such a situation, union leaders believe that the unemployed risk being exploited.

“Rising unemployment allowed employers to recruit workers on the terms and wages they dictated,” said Christopher Fonseca, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).

Fonseca said Goa’s minimum wage is the lowest in the country and has not been reviewed for the past six years. “The highest authority in the state is responsible for maintaining unrevised wages. The wages paid are nothing but an insult to workers, who deserve equal pay for equal work,” he said.

In the absence of employment policy, labor policy and industrial policy, the working class has no social or economic security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown more challenges before this community. More than 25,000 workers have lost their jobs due to closeness of industries or stoppage of construction and development works etc. “The pandemic is being used as a nice cover to silence workers’ rights and exploit them. The employer presses the maximum output of the worker to make up for the losses of his enterprise, but the workers are in the same misery. It lacks humane working conditions,” Fonseca said.

The pandemic has led to mass unemployment and the government has not lifted a finger to help the people. As many as 14 central unions including AITUC have said all those not in the tax bracket should be paid 7,500 rupees a month while the pandemic is flourishing, but the government has not taken any awareness.

A union member said the Union government plans to replace 29 labor laws with four labor codes – Wage Code, Industrial Relations Code, Social Security and Occupational Safety Code, health and working conditions.

“Unions have opposed labor codes because they will have a beating impact on workers. The code favors industries and has nothing to do with improving working conditions or the economic condition of workers,” the MP said.

The villagers and mine workers of seven iron ore-rich talukas face a very bleak and very uncertain future. It is estimated that 2 lakh of direct dependents have been without salary or wages since 2012. Another lakh of those involved in ancillary activities have been badly affected.

“They were very, very patient. But how long can one go without work…without wages…without means of livelihood…The government has failed to protect them,” said Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF) official Puti Gaonkar, adding that “ the living conditions of these workers are very depressing and need urgent attention”. ‘.

Goankar warned that the government could be hit if people turned violent and took to the streets. He said the workers under the GMPF umbrella did everything necessary but nothing happened.

“Hundreds of people have lost their jobs, hundreds have had their wages halved and many live on just one meal a day. We are in a horrible, horrible state,” he explained.